Labor Day

Kim Johnson – I celebrated Labor Day weekend a week early this year. Saturday, August 23, David and I welcomed Paige Kathleen Johnson into our family. She is truly a blessing and perfect in every way. (I know, I know. Every new mom says that.)

As I watched her sleep her first night home I wondered if I had done everything I could in preparing for her arrival to make sure she would be healthy and safe.

Would she be okay her first night in a strange “new” place? Was I feeding her enough? Was I giving her enough attention but not so much that she couldn’t establish her own patterns and independence?

Okay, probably over analyzed that last one, but at 3:00 a.m. as I write this, it seems everything gets a little over analyzed.

My thoughts turned to Paige’s future and what that might look like and then, not surprisingly, my mind turned to Freshman Saturday at Wabash. I couldn’t help but think of all the moms celebrating and remembering their “Labor Days” a week early.

Like me, they have spent countless hours in anticipation of this big day – letting go. There were celebrations and much preparation. But regardless of the time and energy spent prior to the “big day” there is no way to fully prepare for the bittersweet moment of the next step. Their little boys are now men.

No doubt the moms at least a few of the 256 freshmen spent the first night away wondering have I done everything I could to help prepare him for this day? How was his first night in the dorm/fraternity? Is he getting enough to eat? Should I call and check on him or let him initiate the first call?

Hmm. Funny how life works. We think we get our answers and find we’re right back where we started.

Happy Labor Day moms! I’m going to savor the moment because I know in the blink of an eye it will be Paige’s Freshman Saturday somewhere.

Brew Society Welcomes Wabash Freshmen

Howard W. Hewitt – Hospitality comes in many forms. The Class of 2012 had lunch downtown Monday and shared dessert with President Pat White and his wife Chris Wednesday evening.

The Wabash Brew Society got in on the warm welcome with a sample of their own root beer Wednesday morning. The Brew Society  cooked up a keg of root beer and was pouring samples with Librarian John Lanborn’s blessing.

The Freshman Orientation schedule had the students coming through the Lilly Library Wednesday for computer orientation and library introduction.

The Brew Society’s primary focus is brewing beer and they have brewed it all in the past year ranging from wheat beers to stout. But they also brew root beer, ginger ale, and cream sodas.

Ross McKinney ’09, Jacob Peerman ’09, and Jay Brouwer ’09 were pouring the “home brew” soft drink and telling the new students about their club.

In photos: Top right, Brouwer poors another cup of root beer. At left, Reference Librarian Jeff Beck talks with freshmen about the Lilly Library’s many resources.

“The space between those vowels and consonants”

Steve Charles—As editor of Wabash Magazine, I have the luxurious responsibility to listen and read carefully the words spoken here; to convey to you those that, at least in my opinion, you, as a member of the Wabash community, should read.

In wrapping up the Summer 2008 issue of the magazine, I’ve been re-reading (and re-reading again) some of the words spoken at this year’s Commencement and Big Bash. Our students, faculty, alumni, honorary degree recipients, and administrators said some compelling things during those weekends. In an edition of the magazine that’s mostly photographs, I worry that some may get overlooked.

So as the magazine goes to press, I thought I’d walk a few of those words out here at FYI. One or two at a time.

First, National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien (author of The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, and In the Lake of the Woods), who spoke briefly during the honorary degree luncheon. Relatively few people get to hear these extemporaneous remarks from our honored guests—the only time they speak to a group during their stay. As both former President Andy Ford and President Pat White noted that day, our honorary degree recipients “don’t bring words; they bring lives.”

Remarkable lives, yes. But their words are pretty good, too. Here’s O’Brien thanking the College for his honorary degree:

“I am the aging father of a two year old and a four year old, and in a way I look at this honorary degree as a gift to them. It is my hope as a writer that—way beyond bombs and bullets and the material of Vietnam—when they are 18, or 19, or 20 years old, and I might be long gone (after all, hearts go still, and life is fragile), that they might read my books, and in the space between those vowels and consonants, they might hear their father’s voice—the kid I once was, the man I am now, the old man I’ll soon become.

“My stories are not really about war, but about the human heart under pressure. They’re stories about families, fathers, sons, and human courage, and it’s in that spirit that I thank you for presenting this degree to me.”

In photo: Professor of English Tobey Herzog in his garb as faculty marshall with friend and honorary degree recipient Tim O’Brien on Commencement Day. Herzog has written about O’Brien in three books and teaches his works in courses at Wabash.

What Did You Do This Summer?

Steve Charles—Yesterday, after college physician Dr. Scott Douglas ’84 told me I might have a malady usually reserved for babies (the result of having taken antibiotics for two months), I casually asked, “So, have you got any hobbies?

Then, “What have you been up to this summer?”

I know; it’s a weird pairing of questions. Probably a reaction to being
diagnosed with thrush and being told I’ll be swilling Nystatin for the next two weeks. But I got an equally surprising answer.

“Sailing,” Scott said. Not cruises. Or even sailing little board boats on a lake. Big boats. On big water.

“Sailing is my passion,” Scott said. As a kid, he’d spent summers in New England and learned to sail in the Atlantic. Once he rented a boat in the Caribbean and sailed his family island to island. Can imagine being those kids? (My favorite tv show as a kid was James Michener’s “Adventures in Paradise,” so I sure can.) This summer, if I remember correctly, they sailed off the New England coast. I’ve asked for photos.

Our conversation reminded me how little I know about some of the people I work with, and how often these summer vacations are the chance they get to really enjoy not only their families, but doing the things they love. Sometime both together.

Jack Spurway ’69 put the kayak he’d built on top of his car, left Crawfordsville for three weeks for Maine, and learned to make wooden boats and to sail. Professor Melissa Butler is getting certified in sailing; she has taken lessons around the world. Frank Amidon ’92 built a dock this summer, and he and his son Aaron hand-fed dolphins from their boat in the middle of a Florida Bay last week.

Among our landlubbers, there’s Andy Davis ’00, who rode his bike with his fiancee across the United States. Tom Runge ’71 drove his grandkids to Colorado, constantly taking imaginary cell phone calls from his granddaughter from the backseat. Jim Amidon ’87 and his family discovered a national champion orchid grower a few miles south of Greencastle. Sports Information Director Brent Harris went to his annual Jimmy Buffet concert and took care of a friend’s dogs (and you thought Brent didn’t have a life outside of sports!). Wabash Marketing Specialist Kim Johnson is having a baby girl (my money is on August 16), and I babysat my grandson (aka The Potamus) every Wednesday and found Jules, a Golden retriever mix (a Golden Whatever) that can actually catch a Frisbee (though he won’t give it back.)

What did you do this summer? I’d like to know, be it marvelous or mundane. Coaching Little League or visiting your own Field of Dreams. Send me a line and a photo at

Photos: Frank Amidon’s son, Aaron, feeds a dolphin; an orchid grows near Greencastle; the Potamus and his Golden whatever, Jules.

“There for Each Other”

Steve Charles—What brings a group of Wabash Phi Delt brothers together every 10 years? Why this particular group—guys who were in the house between 1971-1974? Why always at the home of Judy and Ed Pitkin ’71, and not on campus?

Those three questions had been on my mind since Mike Dill ’71 had invited me to take a few photographs and get a taste of Phi Delt brotherhood at this informal reunion in mid-July at Ed and Judy’s home near Geist Reservoir outside Indianapolis. I temporarily shelved them when I arrived and replaced them with another question: Where the hell were these guys?

The cars, with license plates from Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, were there. Thirty men from sixteen states had shown up, I’d find out later. But they weren’t in the front yard, or in any of the front rooms. And when I read the note posted on the front door telling all Phi Delts to “come around back” and went looking for the back yard, there wasn’t one. Nor could I hear any Phi Delts. (I was not led to believe this would be a quiet event.)

Rounding the west end of the house I realized that Judy and Ed’s house wasn’t near Geist; it was on Geist. And a brief 45-degree descent down the steps brought me a panoramic view of the lake and into the heart of the celebration. Wabash men, many with their wives, talking, laughing, catching up and enjoying one another in a festival of friendship. (Click here and here for photo albums from the gathering.)

Mike Dill and Judy and Ed welcomed me, showing me some of the paraphernalia from past reunions that was spread out on the Pitkin’s pool table. There were group photos from the 1988 and 1998 gatherings. There was a copy of Mike Dill’s invite for the 1977 gathering (which was held at the Pitkin’s Westside Indianapolis apartment house—I’m still trying to imagine this gregarious, fun-loving group, then in their mid-20s, all jammed into an apartment. “Somebody call the manager.”)

New arrivals greeted Mike, Judy, and Ed as I peppered them with questions.

“I was in a sorority, our son graduated from IU, and our two girls went to school in Colorado, but none of us has a bond like what these guys have,” Judy Pitkin told me. “My daughters have five or six classmates they stay in touch with, but they’ve got cell phones, facebook and myspace, and email. These guys didn’t have those, and they’re still together.”

“Part of what helped us is that we started doing this right after college, and kept on going,” said Mike, who has been organizing and sending invites for the event since its inception. “And Indianapolis is a nice central location. When you think of all the people who fly in—we’ve got 15 or 16 states here, and Joe Lavalle ’71 even flew in from Tokyo last time—easy access helps.”

I asked whether common careers or business interests brings the group together; Mike pointed out the range of occupations represented. They run the gamut. As does the level of material success. As do political leanings. And several of the evening’s guests attended Wabash for only a year or so. This bond is not about how much time you spent with each other, but how you spent it.

“Ed says that this is a Phi Delt function, too,” Judy said.

“Wabash was the foundation, but the Phi Delt house brought us together, and has kept us together,” Ed said.

Mike introduced me to Cathy Flink. She and husband, Steve Flink ’72, were married when he was a junior at Wabash.

“We’ve been married for 37 years,” Cathy said. “Steve and I have known each other since we were 10. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love him. When he was at Wabash, we’d get together once a month. We did the old-fashioned love letter thing. He’d have to stand in line at the fraternity phone to call me.

“There were a handful of married students at that time, in 1971,” Cathy said. “I worked a couple of part time jobs, and I would babysit Dr. Aus Brooks’ kids when they were little.”

When I asked Cathy why this group has stayed in touch, she said, “They just had a wonderful chemistry from the beginning. You could see it, even back then.”

Dan Loftus ’72 believes part of that chemistry was the product of pledgeship.

“It weeded out guys who weren’t ready to be close friends and dedicated to each other,” Dan said. “Our pledgeship created a tremendous amount of loyalty within the pledge class, and, after pledgeship was over, among the actives in different classes.

“These were guys who were ready not just to make friends, but to be friends; to be there for each other.”

Dan’s wife, Carla, added: “For us, Wabash is a family. We’re part of that family. And those of us who are wives feel that, too. We were embraced by the guys, and brought into that family, and we feel as much loyalty as they do.”

For at least two of the guys, this was their first time back in 37 years.

“It’s great to see these guys again,” Ken Cole ’72 told me as he arrived. He seemed not just happy, but proud to be among them again.

Mike Heazlitt ’73 was also back among the brothers for the first time in 37 years, and the stories he was telling rekindled their memories.

“I’d forgotten all about that,” said Allen Matthews ’71, aka Polar Bear, when Heazlitt finished a story. Classmate Steve “Mercury” Morris ’73 added another chapter for Matthews.

“I’d forgotten all about that” was the second most common phrase of the evening behind “Great to see you.”

“Some of the guys came in last night, and we’re sitting out on the patio, and a story comes up,” Mike Dill told me. “Each guy remembered a different facet of the story. Maybe no one remembers the whole story. Pretty soon you begin to piece it all together. It’s a lot of fun.

“Everyone brings his own piece of the story.”

I’m still not sure I can say exactly what it is about these particular guys that brings them together, when other who were good friends do not gather for such reunions. It could be as simple as having folks like Judy and Ed Pitkin to have the party, someone as determined and organized as Mike Dill to send the invites, and great relationships to celebrate.

And stories that tell of the days, good and bad, somber or hilarious, when you were there for one another.

Steve Weliever ’71 recalled an oral presentation he had to give to front of legendary Professor Ben Rogge in order to graduate. A group of his Phi Delt brothers showed up.

“To heckle or support?” I asked Tim Hewitt ’72, who remembers the day well.

“Probably a little of both,” Hewitt smiled. He recalls laughing out loud when Weliever mispronounced the “Danube River”.

“He called it ‘the Blue Danubey.’” Hewitt howls, then asks Weliever, “You remember that?”

“How can I forget it,” he says, shaking his head.

He also can’t forget that those same Phi Delt brothers—many at this gathering today—were there for him when he needed them. To keep things in perspective. To remind him that passing or failing a presentation, or Ben Rogge’s class, wasn’t going to change who he was. He was defined by something deeper. He was their friend and brother.

Dan Loftus’ words keep playing over and over in my head. “These were guys who were ready not just to make friends, but to be friends; to be there for each other.”

Leaving Judy and Ed’s house Saturday evening, I felt honored to be in the presence of men who hadn’t forsaken the friendships of their college days. I remembered reading only a week earlier that Aristotle had placed such importance on the cultivation of friendship: “Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.”

I had come to Judy and Ed Pitkin’s house with three questions. I left with only two: Why don’t all of us give friendships such priority? Why don’t we get together like this more often?